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ASK KENTUCKY COACHES ABOUT THEIR TOP PUPIL, SENIOR RIGHT GUARD LARRY WARFORD, and you're likely to hear some combination of phrases such as "easy to coach," "obedient" and even "subordinate." The praise seems fitting for a kid raised by a father, also named Larry, who served 20 years in the Navy before retiring in 2007 as a chief petty officer.
The younger Larry absorbed much from his father, who would often regale him with stories from his time spent working overseas—in the Philippines, Hawaii, Europe—that made the kid dream of someday traveling the world himself. Young Larry would visit an aircraft carrier and marvel at its size as he imagined following in his father's military footsteps. And as he grew older, the son began mirroring his father's punctuality. As the son says, "If I'm not at least 30 minutes early"—to practices or movies or anything at all—"I feel uncomfortable."
So it seems natural that Warford's collegiate playing career, now entering its final season, got a head start on the typical trajectory. Rather than redshirting during his first fall in Lexington, Warford regularly rotated into the Wildcats' lineup as a true freshman. He then started as a sophomore and had a team-high 43 knockdown blocks on a line that allowed the second-fewest sacks in the SEC. His play earned him second-team all-conference honors, a distinction he also received as a junior. Now he is regarded as one of the top five guards in the country, projected as an early-round NFL draft pick.
None of this would have happened if not for Warford's relatively recent commitment to conditioning. He'd always been big—at nearly 6 feet and 230 pounds he wasn't permitted to play Pop Warner as a sixth-grader—and he had spent his senior year at Madison Central High in Richmond, Ky., trying to become as strong as possible as he prepared for college ball. The focus on developing strength (he weightlifted a lot) made him skimp on aerobics. So when Warford, who stands 6' 3", reported to his first Kentucky camp at 357 pounds, he faced a rude awakening.
The Wildcats were asked to complete 10 gassers—sprints across the width of the field twice—and Warford couldn't come close to finishing the task. "I got to four, and I was like, Uh-oh, this isn't good," he recalls, chuckling. He eventually became conditioned enough to see the field that fall, but much work remained.
Enter the man known as Rock—Ray Oliver. After Warford's freshman season Oliver was hired away from the Cincinnati Bengals to become coach Joker Phillips's director of strength. Oliver's relentless early-morning workouts, not just for Warford but for all the Wildcats, required an adjustment. "I'd hear my alarm clock go off at five-something in the morning," Warford says, "and it would make me feel sick."
But the results of Oliver's demands (typically circuits of step and agility work mixed with stationary bike riding) were inarguable. Coupled with a dietary shift to frequent, small meals and an emphasis on lean meats, the program got Warford down to 330 pounds; he completed 24 half-gassers as a sophomore. These days he and Oliver use boxing sessions—a little sparring, a little pounding of the heavy bag—to keep in shape. Says Oliver, "You really see some of the toughness that comes out of a guy when he's striking that bag. For a guy his size, he'll be as fit as any lineman in our conference—and any lineman in the draft."
Whenever his football career ends, Warford still has ambitions of pursuing a Navy career. There's plenty of time to figure that out, though. It's still early.